January 22, 2019
On January 25th, Scots around the world will celebrate the 260th birthday of legendary poet Robert “Robbie” Burns. Every year in Scotland this anniversary is marked with what’s come to be called Burns Night, a holiday supper dedicated to the 18th-century poet along with traditional Scottish fare like haggis and neeps and tatties, accompanied by good Scotch whisky and the reading of some of Burns’ poems.
So who was this man, how did he become one of the most well known folk heroes in the world and why do we celebrate him with a special supper?
Who was Robbie Burns?
Burns was born January 25, 1759 in Alloway, Ayrshire, Scotland. He was best known as a Scottish poet and songwriter who had an enormous influence and was considered as a pioneer of the early ‘Romantic’ movement, if you recall those archaic epochs from high school history.
With his gift for words and mastery of language and observation, Burns was an inspiration for many early founders of socialism and liberalism in Scotland. His lyrical poetry and rewriting of Scottish folk songs were—and still are—celebrated all around the world.
Like many of us who develop an affinity for something at a young age, Burns had shown interest in books and poetry since childhood. At fifteen he penned his first love poem, dedicated to his neighbour’s daughter. This poem was just the beginning of what would set Burns apart from other writers and poets, since—well ahead of his time—he acknowledged women as individuals who had valuable insights and opinions, and celebrated his love for them.
Despite his fame across the country, Burns was struggling to support his family from poetry and his day job farming. He died in 1796 in Dumfries at the young age of 37.
A memorial edition of his poems was published to raise money for his wife and children, and as is often the case, his reputation grew only after his death. Today he’s an icon of Scottish culture and his birthday is considered a second national holiday with Burns dinners held around the world.
Celebrate Robbie with a Burns Supper
The history of the Burns supper goes back in 1801 when nine of Burns’ close friends gathered to mark the fifth anniversary of their friend’s death. The chums toasted with fine scotch and a hearty traditional meal of haggis, and read Burns’ work aloud.
Their remembrance of their dear friend begat a tradition that has grown and evolved.
Typically a Burns dinner starts with a traditional soup; a Scotch broth or Cock-a-Leekie. The main dish is often haggis, which for many newcomers can be a challenging repast. Haggis is sheep's or calf's stomach stuffed with suet (a hard white fat on the kidneys and loins of cattle, sheep, and other animals which is often used to make foods like pastry, and mincemeat), oatmeal, and seasoning. Perhaps as if to distract from the ingredients, the haggis gets its own performance presentation.
The haggis is usually carried in while a piper plays the bagpipes. During the procession, guests clap in time to the music until the Haggis reaches its destination at the table. The music stops and everyone is seated, and it’s then that someone will read aloud one of Burns’ now famous poems, Address To a Haggis.
With a boisterous chorus of, His knife see rustic Labour dicht, An' cut you up wi' ready slicht ”, the chef will cut open the haggis for serving.
Haggis is traditionally served with a combination of mashed potatoes (champit tatties) and turnips (bashed neeps, or, tatties and neeps as it’s known) followed by traditional desserts such as Clootie Dumpling, or Typsy Laird, both Scottish puddings.
Super Sips for Burns Night Supper
Whisky is often considered Scotland's national drink, and it’s an essential part of any proper Burns Supper.
Our picks for your celebration are The Glenlivet Founder's Reserve, and The Glenmorangie Original Glass Pack. Pour yourself a dram or two and get ready for a toast and the singing of one more song; Auld Lang Syne, since this iconic musical salute was also penned by Mr Robbie Burns.
And in this case, it’s not a lament to the year past, as it might be when sung on New Year’s Eve, but an international anthem of friendship and camaraderie, that has been translated into more than thirty languages.
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